By Lindsay Gaesser, SDA Media Relations
TULSA, Okla.— For the sixth time in head coach Melissa Luellen's 12-year career, the fifth-ranked Arizona State women's golf team recorded a top-five finish at the NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championships on Friday. The Sun Devils shot a four-day total of 30-over 1150 (293-287-291-279) to finish fifth in the nation, seven shots ahead of sixth-place Mississippi State and eight shots ahead of seventh-place Arizona.
“I think that beating our ranking coming into the tournament is really a testament to the team,” said Luellen. “A top-five finish at the National Championships is great.”
Top-ranked Southern California’s Doris Chen won the individual title. Despite a late surge by the Women of Troy, No. 3 Duke held on to the top spot on the leader board, taking home the team title for the sixth time in program history. Duke finished just two strokes ahead of USC, while third-place UCLA finished 13 strokes back from the Trojans.
The battle for fourth place went down to the wire. Finishing with their best round of the tournament, the Sun Devils watched the leader board on the 18th green with bated breath as No. 7 Oklahoma (29-over at the time) and in-state rival No. 11 Arizona (34-over at the time) jockeyed for position. Arizona closed the gap and came within one stroke of Arizona State, but the Wildcats struggled to find the hole on eight and nine, ultimately dropping back to 38-over. On holes 17 and 18, Oklahoma expanded its lead to three strokes, holding on to the fourth place finish.
“The team fought really hard,” said Luellen. “Justine [Lee] was just a machine today. She was just so determined, had no doubts and was just fearless. We had a lot of putts that didn’t go in. When it comes down to team golf a putt here and a putt there can make a difference, but it was a great way to finish.”
Arizona State teed off in the afternoon wave with No. 2 UCLA and No. 27 Mississippi State from hole one. Despite struggling with Tulsa Country Club’s front nine the past three rounds, the Sun Devils were undaunted in today’s round. Carding six birdies and five bogeys on the front nine, Arizona State was 1-under heading into the turn. ASU traded birdies and bogeys on the back nine, closing out the final round at 1-under.
Junior Noemi Jimenez, who took home the individual title at the NCAA West Regional, looked to make a final round push to climb the individual leader board. Although Jimenez tallied four birdies throughout the round, she also had three bogeys, which prevented her from staging a comeback. Jimenez finished the tournament the way she started, with a 1-under 69.
Freshman Monica Vaughn had another solid round at Tulsa Country Club, shooting an even-par 70 on Friday. Improving her score each day of the tournament, the rookie was 10-over 290 (75-73-72-70) through 72 holes. Throughout the championship, Vaughn proved to have nerves of steel and that she will be a key golfer for Arizona State in the coming years.
In a poetic end to their collegiate golf careers, seniors Justine Lee and Laura Blanco finished tied with a 13-over 293. Lee got off to a hot start with birdies on holes one and three. Having no trouble with the front nine today, Lee was 2-under at the turn and carded the lowest score for the Sun Devils heading into the back nine. With another pair of birdies on 10 and 12, Lee was on pace to shoot a career-low 66. But back-to-back bogeys on 17 and 18 to close the round brought Lee back to a 2-under 68.
Lee and Blanco, along with teammate Dani Ordonez, were incoming freshmen in 2010. In the blink of an eye, ASU’s roster dwindled to two golfers when Jennifer Johnson and Jaclyn Sweeney left to turn professional, and two freshmen were dismissed from the team. The two remaining Sun Devils—Carlota Ciganda and Giulia Molinaro—were forced to play as individuals that fall season because ASU could not field a team. Lee, Blanco, and Ordonez transferred to Arizona State in January 2011 and helped fill the empty roster spots that spring season. The Sun Devils shocked the golf community when they made it to the NCAA Championships that year.
“I think the fact these girls have weathered the storm and saved our program speaks volumes about how much they mean to Missy [Farr-Kaye] and me,” said Luellen of ASU’s seniors. “Their freshman year, we made it to nationals and we were really just excited to be there because we didn’t have a goal. The next year we tied for sixth, and last year we finished fifth as well. For some kids who just came in at semester, and who weren’t highly touted recruits, it shows you that heart can take you a long way. These are some really talented kids.”
Arizona State is a name synonymous with dominance in collegiate women’s golf. In addition to holding the record for most championship appearances at 23, ASU holds a total of seven records in the NCAA Records book.
The Sun Devils have won the most national championships in NCAA history with seven, including six in a span of eight years in the 1990s under then head coach Linda Vollstedt.
|T26||Noemi Jimenez (1)||69||76||73||69||287||+7|
|T38||Monica Vaughn (2)||75||73||72||70||290||+10|
|T50||Justine Lee (3)||82||68||75||68||293||+13|
|T50||Laura Blanco (4)||75||73||73||72||293||+13|
|T50||Emilie Alonso (5)||74||73||73||73||293||+13|
On the Sun Devils...
McNamara knows no lead is safe (Golfweek.com 3/22)
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